Cyclist hits pedestrian and the typical media bias - Cliff/Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear/Flickr

Cyclist hits pedestrian and the typical media bias

(Note: To be clear, this is a bad situation. I am aware that the improtant angle here is the lack of insurance, but that’s for another time…)

At the end of 2014, a pedestrian in Merrickville, NSW was hit by a cyclist, who is alleged to have run the red light.

There are a few possible reactions to this article from the Sydney Morning Herald:

  • Oh, an accident, which is bad, but part of life. Good thing no one died.
  • Cyclists are irresponsible scoff-laws. They are always running red lights.
  • Cyclists have no regard for the safety of others.
  • Cycling, but more likely, cyclists, are dangerous.
  • Cyclists get away with murder. And have intent to cause harm.
  • Register them! That will solve everything!

The media seems to always take the same approach to this. Sensationalize. Humanize the non-cycling victim, villainize the cyclist. Give disproportional weight to motoring bodies and people in government who support cyclist-registration and/or helmet laws. Blow everything out of proportion. Display typical media bias against cyclists.

Let’s compare this to another article from the same paper that is similar, except that one victim died and another was hospitalized and in critical condition. Oh, and it was a car that hit them. And the driver fled the scene and was detained under citizens arrest. Nothing to see here.

Somehow, this article managed to simply reported the facts. That’s it. No emotive language, no drawn-out back story of the victims, no exaggeration. It devotes the last few paragraphs to giving people a heads up regarding the streets to avoid so as not to be delayed. Simple, objective, and actually helpful. This unbiased and straight-forward report is of a situation which is many, many times worse than the Greenwood case. Someone died and someone else is in critical condition because the driver mounted the kerb and hit them, and the news reported it as it happened. Like it is supposed to. It is worth noting that this kind of thing happens all the time (relatively speaking). Cars hit and kill pedestrians (and cyclists, but they had it coming, obviously) and it is just written off as an accident, with the usual “no criminality suspected” line trotted out.

Ok. So, a cyclist hits a pedestrian, who suffers no serious injury (missing teeth, which is serious, but not really, and superficial scrapes that have completely healed by the time the reporter comes around to take her picture 2-3 weeks later, knocked unconscious can be bad, but nothing to note in this case, and a fractured collarbone, which cyclists suffer all the time). The tone of the article, right from the title, is dripping with the usual mix of emotive and blaming language, extensive pity for the victim, and one-sided sources to pad the authors point of view. Objective reporting this is not. And this is supposed to be one of the serious papers.

A selection of the language that sets the scene: The title reads “Pedestrian Emily Greenwood run down by cyclist”. First, the victim is named and humanized, while the cyclist is assumed to have intentionally “run down” the hapless pedestrian. She “took one step out onto the road”. “Just as her foot hit the bitumen, a cyclist ran a red light…” Reads like a novel with its rich (meh) description of the scene. I’m surprised it wasn’t a dark and stormy night…

This one really stands out: “Ms Greenwood’s story is not unique.” Really? Seems pretty unique to me. Let’s have a look. Given the regular occurrence of pedestrians injured and killed by motor vehicles, you would expect that for a pedestrian being injured by a cyclist to be considered somewhat common, there would surely be a fair number of other cases. Australia isn’t big on statistics, so the following numbers apply to NSW specifically, but in 2012 50 pedestrians were killed by vehicles and 1075 injured. That’s in one State, in one year. In the US of A, the land of the seriously brave and tacitly free to be killed when it comes to using public roads, there were 4,743 pedestrians killed, and 76,000 injured in 2012. This “averages to one crash-related pedestrian death every 2 hours, and a pedestrian injury every 7 minutes”. That’s a lot.

So, if Ms Greenwood’s case is far from unique, what does Eryk Bagshaw offer as proof? Why, in 2002 – 13 years ago – a cyclist hit a pedestrian on a shared path. Firstly, I don’t need to point out to you that reaching back 13 years to find another example most definitely qualifies this as a unique situation, and secondly, it was on a shared path. I’m quite certain that fault lies with the cyclist. People often ride too fast and recklessly on occupied shared paths, however, unless the cyclist was riding with their eyes closed, the pedestrian had to have moved into their path without looking in order to have been hit. That’s far different from running a red light. Still, fault lies with the cyclist, but all in all, Eryk isn’t supporting his argument very well.

Here’s another interesting fact to consider: the article that reported the worse situation (one person getting killed and one seriously injured on the sidewalk by a car) has so far racked up 2 tweets and 31 shares on Facebook, and was published nearly a month earlier. The cyclists-hits-pedestrian article on the road? 84 tweets, and, get this, 9300+ shares on Facebook at the time of this article. There are no comments (that I can find) following this article, but from past experience, most of them are from opinionated and seriously uninformed motorists (sure, that’s biased, but I believe that’s entirely true) that only serve to inflame the situation. I’m sure many of them would have something to do with “not even paying for the roads”… Evidently, people are really concerned about a cyclist injuring a pedestrian, but someone getting killed and someone else seriously injured on the sidewalk by a car hardly even registers.

I find that interesting.

This illustrates the larger position that cycling occupies in Australia. It’s definitely on the back foot, with the average motorist – or more likely, the loud minority  – and the media giving it a seriously hard time, villainizing cyclists and crying tears for the poor motorists. This has to change. We have to find a creative way to tilt the biased popular opinion in favour of balance and actual facts. The problem is that the media doesn’t usually like facts.

The article mentions that the penalty for the cyclist (who has yet to be charged, as it happens) for negligent driving is $67. That’s a real problem. Maybe a bit like when vehicles hit and even kill pedestrians, they usually end up in the good-old “no criminality suspected” category with a small fine for a moving violation, if that.

What needs to happen is for there to be a serious cost attached to hitting someone with your vehicle of choice, and more so for taking someone’s life. People have no real fear of killing someone else in their car, and guess what? It happens all the time. We need serious penalties for serious misconduct.

The media needs to stop pandering to the masses (them asses?) who click and comment on these articles (ie. generate income for the papers) and instead try to be a productive part of the solution. Appealing to common sense and empathy from all road users, and campaigning for much tougher penalties for these crimes seems like a good place to start.


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